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Nine Months Later, Ethiopia Remains Embroiled In Civil War

NOEL KING, HOST:

Ethiopia's civil war is going into its ninth month. This is a very complex situation. And all sides are accusing each other of war crimes and human rights abuses. Now also the ground is shifting. The rebels are advancing. And the government is leading a national mobilization effort. Here's NPR's Eyder Peralta.

EYDER PERALTA, BYLINE: When this war started back in November of last year, the government downplayed it as a law enforcement operation, a spat between the federal government and a regional government over how much autonomy the Tigrayan state should have. The Tigray People's Liberation Front - the TPLF - attacked the Ethiopian military. And Ethiopia came at the rebels with everything, drones, planes and troops from neighboring Eritrea. Within weeks, the government declared victory. But the Tigrayan rebels retreated into the mountains and began an insurgency. Last month, after beating back the Ethiopian military, the government declared a cease-fire. The TPLF rebels ignored it and instead began making advances.

ALEMAYEHU WELDEMARIAM: The war is quickly spreading into much of Ethiopia.

PERALTA: That is Alemayehu Weldemariam, a law professor at Mekelle University in the rebel capital. The rebels have now spilled into neighboring states. And this week, they struck a deal to fight jointly with another big rebel group.

ALEMAYEHU: This is a game changer because I think the scope is growing.

PERALTA: The rebels, which had once focused solely on their territory, have now made it clear they want to topple the federal government. Alemayehu says it sets up irreconcilable differences. The government brands the rebels terrorists whom they won't negotiate with, and the rebels see the government as illegitimate.

ALEMAYEHU: I don't see any political solution to this. The only solution in the horizon is military solution.

PERALTA: The two primary sides in this conflict actually splintered from the party that ruled Ethiopia for almost three decades. Popular protests forced a shake-up three years ago. And two sides with two different visions for the country emerged. Ann Fitz-Gerald, who studies Ethiopia at the Balsillie School of International Affairs in Canada, views it as a tragic family fallout.

ANN FITZ-GERALD: Well, there was a divorce. And they're living together in the same house regardless of the divorce.

PERALTA: Fitz-Gerald says, red lines were crossed, ideological differences have hardened. And in the short term, she sees no political solution. But she points out that often in these insurgencies, rebel groups evolve.

FITZ-GERALD: Fissures and splinters start opening up. And we may see a more moderate group emerge that could come to the table.

PERALTA: But for now, it's war. The rebels are marching south on state TV. The government is prepping its people with old war songs for a long fight.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

UNIDENTIFIED SINGER: (Singing in non-English language).

PERALTA: "We may be eaten by hyenas," the song goes, "but we're ready to spill our blood for Ethiopia."

Eyder Peralta, NPR News, Cape Town. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.